Showtime's Matt Blank: Epix Is Not a Player in the Premium TV Business

Also says offering content on Netflix's streaming service "undercuts the current distribution environment."

NEW YORK -- Showtime chairman and CEO Matt Blank said Friday that he is not too worried about potential cord cutting, premium pay TV firm Epix, the Comcast-NBC Universal deal or Netflix's emergence as a streaming powerhouse.

"We don't think the numbers are dramatic," he said about the second consecutive quarter of declines in TV multichannel subscribers in a wide-ranging keynote interview here at the Future of Television conference. "It's way too early to conclude what's happening." He pointed to  consumers being stressed by one of the worst U.S. recessions and a lack of clarity on whether people will really drop their pay TV service for good or just shop around for cheaper offers.

Showtime is carefully looking at new emerging distribution platforms, including video game consoles, to serve younger audiences, but multichannel TV remains the largest distribution business, Blank highlighted.

Asked about Epix, a venture of Viacom, MGM and Lionsgate, which used to have output deals with Showtime, Blank said it doesn't really see it compete with Showtime due to different programming and distribution strategies. "We don't really see Epix as a player in the premium television business," he said. "They don't compete with us for subscribers really anywhere. They are being offered as a sort of digital basic Netflix."

Asked about the latter's streaming service, Blank lauded the company as "a strong player and a strong brand," but highlighted it is spending a lot of money on content, and will face more competition in the future. "We don't think that they affect us very much at the moment."

Showtime is not providing its content for Netflix streaming though, because "frankly, we think it undercuts the current distribution environment where we have ... distributors paying us more for our product and selling it in a way that we think is appropriate to the brand and what we hope to do with the brand in the future."

Concluded Blank: "We would hope to have much more success than Netflix could offer us in that space."

Asked about the Comcast-NBC Universal merger and its impact on the business, Blank said it is recognition by the biggest U.S. distributor that content has great value and provides "a great deal of cover and protection" in a changing distribution world.

"They will create a very powerful company" led by smart people, he said, but also highlighted that integrating two big companies will not be easy.

"It will make for some good theater over the next couple of years," he quipped.

Faced with a question about Showtime's 3D strategy, Blank said "we're being a little bit more cautious" on it than on HD. As a consumer, he said he finds 3D more interesting in theatrical form. He quipped that after coming home from work, he would be more likely to lie on his couch and watch TV than sit straight and in the proper location to take in 3D content.

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